Belfast Telegraph

How IoD has changed beyond recognition over 60 years


By Margaret Canning

The Institute of Directors (IoD) has vowed to help its business members in Northern Ireland through the challenges of Brexit as it celebrates 60 years in the province.

Director Linda Brown - who will retire this year after 23 years in the role - said it remains as relevant to Northern Ireland business today as it did when it was set up in 1957.

And she said female membership had also vastly increased since she joined the organisation.

It has also had to withstand the impact of events around it, including the Troubles - and in 1971 an annual IoD banquet and ball was cancelled due to the threat of terrorist attack.

Ms Brown said: "As an organisation, we have played a key role in helping the business community thrive through difficult times and as they face emerging challenges such as Brexit.

"We are committed to supporting leaders through the promotion of continual professional development and good governance as they share our goal of improving conditions across the economy."

The IoD was set up in 1903 and received its Royal Charter in 1906, making it the oldest body for professional business leaders in the UK.

The Northern Ireland branch was set up in the Ulster Reform Club in June 1957 - the 14th regional branch - and was chaired by then Lord Mayor of Belfast Robert Harcourt, whose family owned a coal business. Captain WH Wilson was its secretary.

Ms Brown said: "It wasn't until 1970 that more detailed records of the IoD in Northern Ireland emerge.

"Activity at the time included planning for an annual banquet and ball in 1971. But minutes show that the event was cancelled due to the danger of terrorist attacks at the time."

Brexit and subdued economic growth are now the main challenges its members face and director general Stephen Martin, who is from Northern Ireland, has said that resolving the question of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland would be "the litmus test for a successful exit".

Ms Brown, who was the first woman to lead the IoD in Northern Ireland, said the organisation aims to reflect the diversity of the economy.

"IoD NI represents businesses of all sizes, from sole proprietors to SMEs and large firms and our membership is just as diverse," she said. "In 1994, hotelier Howard Hastings became our youngest ever chairman, aged just 33.

"Currently, 25% of IoD NI members are aged under 43 and make up our Young Directors Forum.

"We also have a growing number of female members, and in this respect the organisation has changed markedly since when I first joined.

"One of our most popular events is the Women's Leadership Conference, held this year for the 10th time, which showcases the depth and diversity of talent among female entrepreneurs in the IoD and the wider economy."

The IoD will host a gala ball at Titanic Belfast on June 1 to celebrate its anniversary. It will be hosted by BBC Northern Ireland broadcaster Wendy Austin and former BBC political correspondent - and Strictly Come Dancing on contestant - John Sergeant as guest speaker.

  • To book a place or table at the Gala or for more information on the Institute of Directors, visit

Belfast Telegraph